Healthy Running Game Key for Irish

<P>Much of the talk this spring has focused on the offensive line and replacing four starters along the offensive line. Maybe we should be talking about the drastic improvement of quarterback Carlyle Holiday this spring. The word has been that he has been outstanding in spring practices. A solid offensive line will surely help Holiday but a healthy Ryan Grant would also help. A healthy running game this year might be the key to how much Holiday improves next year. </P>

I realize that Julius Jones might be returning but as of now, he is not on the team. I wanted to go back and do a little research on Holiday's performance and Ryan Grant's performance and see if there were any correlation between the two and success. I also looked at red-zone statistics because I believe that a solid running game helps in converting red-zone opportunities. The numbers certainly suggest they do.

I took a look at Notre Dame's most difficult games in 2002, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Boston College, USC and North Carolina State. The numbers suggest a healthy and productive Ryan Grant means success for the Irish.

Holiday's Numbers

Michigan: 8-17 for 154 yards, 7 sacks

Pitt: 16-25, 145 yards, 1 TD, 2 sacks

FSU: 13-21, 185 yards, 2 TD, 2 sacks

Boston College: 16-32, 198 yards, 2 TD, 2 sacks

USC: 10-29, 70 yards, 3 INT, 3 sacks

Grant's Numbers

Michigan: 28 rushes, 132 yards, 2 TD

Pitt: 19 rushes, 42 yards, 1 TD

FSU: 19 rushes, 94 yards, 2 TD

Boston College: 27 rushes, 107 yards, 0 TD

USC: 10 rushes, 16 yards, 0 TD

NC ST: 21 rushes, 68 yards, 0 TD

Red-zone Opportunities

Michigan: 4 opportunities, 3 scores, 20 points, 3 TD

Pitt: 2 opportunities, 2 scores, 14 points, 2 TD

FSU: 5 opportunities, 5 scores, 27 points, 3 TD-2FG

Boston College: 6 opportunities, 1 score, 7 points, 1 TD

USC: 2 opportunities, 2 scores, 6 points, 2 FG

NC ST: 3 opportunities, 2 scores, 6 points, 2 FG

Looking at these numbers, it's clear that a healthy Ryan Grants helps Holiday and helps the offense. Nobody is certain when Grant got injured but it was somewhere between the Air Force and Boston College game. When Grant got injured, Holiday didn't produce as much, the red-zone opportunities were less and the scoring of touchdowns was less.

In the Michigan game, Holiday didn't throw a touchdown pass but Ryan Grant scored two touchdowns and the Irish scored a total of three in their four opportunities all on the ground. Michigan scored two touchdowns out of four opportunities. This was clearly the difference in the game.

Pittsburgh could've just as easily beat the Irish. The difference, the Irish scored 14 points in their two red-zone opportunities while the Panthers only scored six points in their two opportunities—final score, Notre Dame 14, Pittsburgh 6. Holiday threw a touchdown and Grant scored one on the ground.

Florida State was probably the most complete game the Irish played. Holiday threw for two touchdowns and Ryan Grant scored two on the ground. The Irish dominated the game early both passing and running the football.

Boston College is a clear example of not converting in the red-zone. The Irish were in the red-zone six times and came away with seven points total. Grant rushed for 107 yards but had zero touchdowns. The Irish did have three fumbles inside the red-zone but nobody is certain if they would've converted these into scores without the fumbles. The running game clearly hurt Notre Dame in this game.

The final two games against USC and North Carolina State clearly showed the correlation. Grant was obviously hurting and so was the Irish offense without him. Grant rushed for 16 total yards against USC and 68 against North Carolina State on 21 carries (3.2 yards per carry). He didn't score a touchdown and neither did the Irish offense. Holiday was 10-29 against USC with three interceptions. Holiday was hurt against North Carolina State but his backup Pat Dillingham was 19-37 for 166 yards and three interceptions.

As you can see, the Irish need a solid running game. Holiday performed well for a first-year quarterback in this system when he had help. Holiday threw a total of two interceptions in the first 11 games. When Grant and the Irish running game were healthy they were beating quality teams. When Grant and the Irish running game were suffering, so did the Irish offense. The offensive line will play a big role in the success of the offense this year but the Irish need a tailback to help Holiday execute this offense. A healthy running game will help Holiday and this offense just as much as a solid offensive line. Top Stories